October 13, 2009, Updated July 2, 2014

Adding a handful of dates to your daily diet could improve your blood triglyceride levels without raising blood sugar levels according to new research by an Israeli scientist.

Professor Michael Aviram, a biochemist from the Technion-Israel Institute of Science, found that eating Hallawi dates daily for four weeks could improve the quality of lipids (fats) in the blood without raising sugar levels. In 1995, Aviram was the first to prove that consuming red wine reduces cholesterol oxidation and arteriosclerosis development.

Dates, which grow in sub-tropical and desert areas throughout North Africa, the Middle East, California and Australia are rich in natural sugars and vitamins A and B. They are thought to be one of the world’s oldest cultivated fruits and the date palm was often called the ‘tree of life,’ as every part of the tree can be utilized.

Keeping your arteries clear

Aviram and his team carried out a test on 10 healthy subjects who ate 3.75 oz of Hallawi dates daily for four weeks. The results of the test, which were published online by the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, showed a 15 percent decrease in triglyceride (fats) levels and a 33% drop in the amount of oxidation of fats in the blood.

“Oxidation is central to the deposition of cholesterol into the artery wall,” says Aviram of the Technion Faculty of Medicine and Rambam Medical Center. “Once it is deposited, it can cause blockage of the blood supply to the heart or brain, a phenomenon that causes heart attack or stroke.”

According to Aviram, a patient’s risk for heart and vascular disease is assessed not just by measuring the quantity of blood cholesterol levels, but also the quality. This quality begins to degrade when the cholesterol is oxidized into potentially harmful molecules.

Aviram has spent more than 20 years trying to find ways to prevent and break down the deposits of cholesterol in the arteries – arteriosclerosis – that cause strokes and heart disease, a major cause of death in the Western world. He has focused particularly on discovering natural antioxidants that can improve the quality of blood cholesterol levels.

Red wine, onions and pomegranate

Following his groundbreaking study in the ’90s when he discovered the health benefits of drinking red wine, in later studies he also confirmed the antioxidant benefits of licorice, onions, olive oil and pomegranates, proving that the juice of the fruit contains a particularly powerful antioxidant that can help fight cholesterol and heart disease more effectively than the flavinoids in tomatoes and red wine.

Aviram is also developing a white wine that will have the same health benefits for the heart as red.

Dates contain high levels of sugar, and the researchers were surprised to discover that a diet rich in dates did not bring about an increase in blood sugar level. This could possibly make them suitable even for patients suffering from mild hyperglycemia (persistently high blood sugar levels), Aviram believes.

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